Choosing The Right CBD: Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, & Isolate

Since hemp and hemp-derived CBD became federally legal three years ago, there’s been a massive uptick in the amount of CBD products available to the public. Having so many options to choose from certainly makes the cannabinoid more accessible to consumers, but the jargon used by CBD distributors to describe these products can make it hard to find the product that’s right for you.

Terms like “broad spectrum” and “isolate” are meant to help consumers quickly identify which cannabinoids and terpenes could be present in a particular CBD formulation, but unless you’re already fluent in the terminology, it can make finding the right CBD product feel overwhelming.  

Here’s how to navigate the jargon and find the CBD product that best fits your unique needs.

What Are Terpenes?

The cannabis plant produces several different kinds of chemical compounds. In recent years, both consumers and cultivators have placed a greater emphasis on terpenes.

Terpenes are aromatic molecules found in various plants and can also be synthesized and used in fragrances or aromatherapies. Plants originally developed these pungent compounds for evolutionary reasons. Sweet-smelling terpenes helped attract pollinators, while bitter terpenes discouraged omnivorous predators from turning them into lunch. 

The cannabis plant, in particular, produces a vast array of different terpenes. It’s why cannabis’ infamous aroma is so complex. But cannabis terpenes may do more than just smell. According to some research, cannabis terpenes may also have therapeutic benefits like anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiseptic properties. 

What Are Cannabinoids?

Arguably the most important class of compounds found in cannabis are cannabinoids. Most people are familiar with the two most common cannabinoids, CBD and THC, but the plant can surprisingly produce over 100 unique cannabinoids depending on the strain.

A compound is classified as a cannabinoid when it meets two conditions. First, it must be produced by the cannabis plant. Second, it must interact with the endocannabinoid system when consumed by a human being. 

Cannabinoids have different levels of bioavailability depending on intake method (i.e., inhalation, topical application, oral consumption, etc.) This is a measure of how much of the compound enters the bloodstream and interacts with the endocannabinoid system. Inhalation methods offer the best bioavailability of any intake method, while oral consumption has the lowest bioavailability. 

Different cannabinoids have different effects, but only THC is confirmed to produce the “high” associated with marijuana consumption.

What Is The Endocannabinoid System?

The human body is incredibly complicated, and scientists are continuously discovering more about it. In the grand scheme of our collective knowledge of anatomy, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a relatively recent discovery. 

It wasn’t until 1992 that Israeli researchers found that our bodies naturally produce neurotransmitters chemically similar to cannabinoids in that they trigger the same neurotransmitter receptors activated by cannabis consumption. We now refer to these neurotransmitters as endocannabinoids.

This complex cell signaling system composed of endocannabinoids and endocannabinoid receptors was named the endocannabinoid system, and we’ve since learned that it plays a significant role in maintaining homeostasis.  Several life functions, including memory retention, reproduction, mood, appetite, and sleep patterns are partially regulated by the ECS. 

What Is The Entourage Effect?

Individually, studies indicate that both terpenes and cannabinoids may possess medicinal or therapeutic benefits. However, a new theory has recently emerged that suggests that these compounds may be even more effective when used together in combination. This is known as the entourage effect.

The entourage effect can describe a synergistic relationship between both cannabinoids and terpenes. For example, noted cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo states in his paper, Taming THC, “The effects of cannabis on sleep have been reviewed, and highlight the benefits that can accrue in this regard, particularly with respect to symptom reduction permitting better sleep, as opposed to a mere hypnotic effect. Certainly, terpenoids with pain-relieving, anti-anxiety or sedative effects may supplement such activity, notably, caryophyllene, linalool and myrcene.”

The entourage effect also describes the way in which CBD seems to modulate some of the negative effects of THC, particularly increased feelings of anxiety or paranoia of some users associated with high THC strains of cannabis. Similarly, the presence of THC may make high CBD strains more effective overall.

What Is Full Spectrum CBD? 

Both CBD and THC oil today are often marketed as full spectrum. This is meant to convey to consumers that the product contains the full spectrum of terpenes and cannabinoids that naturally occur in the cannabis plant. 

With what we know about the entourage effect becoming more well-known among cannabis consumers, many users prefer to purchase full spectrum products to maximize their CBD’s potential benefit. 

What Is Broad Spectrum CBD? 

For users who want the entourage effect but need to avoid THC for any reason, broad spectrum CBD exists as an in-between. 

Broad spectrum CBD lacks the THC contained in full spectrum competitors, but it does have other cannabinoids and terpenes. This can be a way to encourage the entourage effect while still avoiding the intoxicating THC. 

What Is CBD Isolate? 

In contrast to full spectrum CBD, isolate is purely CBD extract. This means there are no additional terpenes, cannabinoids, or any compound other than CBD extract. 

Typically, consumers prefer full spectrum products, but there are exceptions. For one, CBD isolate can often be found for cheaper prices than full spectrum CBD oil. So some consumers on a budget may choose to forgo encouraging the entourage effect. 

Also, some users may find that they are particularly sensitive to THC, or may have concerns over drug screenings, and want to find a CBD product completely free of other cannabinoids.

Each of these CBD options has benefits, so it’s about finding the one that works best for your unique lifestyle.

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